Yahoo sues Facebook: Which patents are in dispute?

Summary:Yahoo is suing Facebook over the alleged infringement of 10 patents. But what do these patents refer to, and could Facebook users be affected?

Within a few days of Yahoo threatening to sue Facebook over the alleged infringement of patents, the once search giant made good on its promise.

Yahoo is now suing the world's largest social network over 10 crucial patents it says it owns.

Looking through these patents, it is clear to see that while Facebook may or may not be in the wrong --- let's allow the courts to decide that --- the social network clearly has a number of features in which Yahoo has got itself worried about.

From instant messaging to email patents, to the ones that appear absolutely crucial to the social network's advertising business model, should Yahoo win, Facebook could be in deep trouble.

Here's what we think is going on:

U.S. Patent No. 69075667100111, 7373599 --- "Method and system for optimum placement of advertisements on a webpage"

These patents refer to where Facebook places its advertisements, such as "Sponsored Stories" on the right hand side of each page. These three patents, which Yahoo claims a stake in, are described as being able to change and adapt based on the "likelihood that an event will occur" based on other factors, like clicking 'Like' on a business page.

U.S. Patent No. 7668861 --- "System and method to determine the validity of an interaction on a network"

This patent allows the detection of keywords in a set of data, such as a status update. This could easily relate to tagging names in status updates or tagging other users in photos, for example. Ultimately, it keeps a quiet tab of how often you contact or interact with people to then make them appear higher up in Facebook search rankings, for example.

U.S. Patent No. 7269590 --- "Method and system for customizing views of information associated with a social network user"

This patent allows for a user's personal information to be added to a social network, for which then others within that social network can be brought together by similar personal data, such as "dating, employment, hobbies, and the like". This gives Facebook the juice to define the experience for its users based on the information they upload, and to display friends' content more prominently based on many other mitigating factors.

U.S. Patent No. 7599935 --- "Control for enabling a user to preview display of selected content based on another user's authorisation level"

This one allows for two users to interact with each other based on their relationship. It allows a first user to preview content as it would be seen by a second user, provided that second user had a relationship with the first. It means users on Facebook, simply put, share content, messages and items with selected people.

U.S. Patent No. 7454509 --- "Online playback system with community bias"

In terms of Facebook, it is a music station that is based on what you and your friends listen to. It grants user entertainment according to a community of similar tastes. The "with a community bias" bit allows fan pages of bands, businesses, and all kinds of other industries to interact with the social network's users.

U.S. Patent No. 5983227 --- "Dynamic page generator"

And here's the "Timeline" patent, basically. This patent allows a page template --- like an empty Facebook profile page --- to be filled in with content. While the patent refers to "stock quotes, news headlines, sports scores, weather, and the like", it apparently also relates to music, photos, and status updates from ordinary users.

U.S. Patent No. 7747648 --- "World modeling using a relationship network with communication channels to entities"

This patent allows you to message your friends, and allow them to message you as though it was real world communication. Facebook is ultimately all about whom you connect with --- and not just your friends. This patent makes it happen, by giving users a "communication channel" to other people and businesses, events, and communities.

U.S. Patent No. 7406501 --- "System and method for instant messaging using an e-mail protocol"

And finally, and simply put --- because it's the easiest of them all --- this patent makes communication between an instant messaging client and email work. It allows for an instant messenger user to use an instant messenger, and share messages with an email user who is using an email client, and the two are none the wiser that each other are using different platforms. The experience is seamless. Facebook introduced such a feature when it rolled out Messages last year.

Image credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET.

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Topics: CXO, Banking, Collaboration, Legal, Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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